What's Cooking With Kim O'Donnel

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Kim O'Donnel
Special to washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, March 25, 2008; 12:00 PM

Calling all foodies! Join us Tuesdays at noon for What's Cooking, our live online culinary hour with Kim O'Donnel.

A graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education (formerly known as Peter Kump's New York Cooking School), Kim spends much of her time in front of the stove or with her nose in a cookbook.

For daily dispatches from Kim's kitchen, check out her blog, A Mighty Appetite. You may catch up on previous transcripts with the What's Cooking archive page.

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Kim O'Donnel: Happy Spring, y'all. Hope you're enjoying the change. It's still nippy out, but I'll take it. Nice to hear all those returning birds chatting outside my window, too. As blog readers know, I made a spinach-chickpea pie over the weekend, making a dough primarily from chickpea flour. Worth trying. Did any of you do Easter entertaining? Or maybe you hosted an NCAA tourney snackfest? Do tell. By the way, this month's meatless hour is this Thursday at 1pm ET. Come back and join me for the merriment. And now, it's all about you...

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Brooklyn, N.Y.: Wanted to send an update on my acorn squash craving -- I found some and made a lovely Roasted Acorn Squash and Gorgonzola Pizza, which I found on Smitten Kitchen. The final touch is a layer of arugula added right at the end -- therefore making this pizza the perfect blend of the outgoing winter and incoming summer.

Speaking of arugula, I was craving pasta and arugula and your recipe today just hits the spot -- can I make it with whole wheat spaghetti or will textures and flavors clash?

Kim O'Donnel: Cool! I want to know more about the squash. Did you roast, then mash on top of the pizza? Re: that arugula pesto, which turned out to be lovely with ricotta, I think whole wheat spag would be just dandy. Try it with little itty tomatoes, too; the sweetness lifted the bitter notes just a bit.

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Washington, D.C.: I know we shouldn't buy tilapia from China, but is tilapia from Indonesia a problem too? Costco sells bags of IQF tilapia filets which are very convenient. If I put one in the fridge before I go to work it is ready to cook when I get home from work. Buying fish is such a dilemma!

Kim O'Donnel: According to the seafood guide at Environmental Defense, farm-raised tilapia from Southeast Asia (of which Indonesia is a part) is an eco-worst choice due to sketchy management practices. Monterey Bay Aquarium's seafood guide mentions China and Taiwan as tilapia regions to avoid for similar reasons. A better choice would be tilapia from Central America -- Belize, Costa Rica -- or South America (Peru, Uruguay, Venezula).

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Omaha, Neb.: Happy Tuesday! I'd like to substitute apple sauce for sugar in my favorite muffin recipe. Is it just a 1:1 exchange rate?

Kim O'Donnel: You're better off subbing the apple sauce for the oil, dear, and that is a 1:1 exchange. If you want to lower the sugar content, you might want to try agave nectar, made from the agave plant, or a less refined sugar. Dates, when pureed, also make a very fine sweetner.

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Updates: Snacking on the Air and cooking for one: Kim, I just wanted to give you and the gang an update on some of the inquiries submitted a couple of weeks ago. I had asked about snacks good to take along on flights -- I loved the idea about hummus, but unfortunately it didn't work; as the screening guy at the airport said it was liquidy. I tried to argue it was a paste not a liquid, but I failed. Thanks for the ideas though. I'm sticking to trail mix.

As for cooking for one, it's been a month of my adventure and it's been going good so far -- I just have to keep in mind portion size.

Overall I wanted to thank you and the readers for your help and suggestions.

Kim O'Donnel: Dang! I can't believe TSA took your hummus. That stinks. It's been a while since I took hummus with me, but gee whiz, it's NOT A LIQUID -- OR A GEL. Sorry for the caps, but that really burns my socks. Instead, for the sake of national security, we should all eat transfat-laden fries at the Mickey D's beyond security instead. Wait to they see us all dropping like flies. Oh I forgot -- they don't care. Sigh.

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Sour cream: I have nearly a full tub of sour cream and I was hoping for some ideas of how to use it up in a vegetable dish.

Kim O'Donnel: I'm a plain yogurt over sour cream kind of girl, so I'm going to let this very savvy group weigh in with their fave ways to use up the SC. Let'em rip, folks...

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Washington, D.C.: Can you remind me of how to "make" buttermilk? Is it as simple as adding lemon juice to regular milk? I imagine there must be a specific ratio, though. It always seems like a waste to buy a whole carton just to get a couple teaspoons for a recipe. Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: It is that simple -- For 1 cup of milk, add 1 tablespoon lemon juice or plain vinegar, and let it sit for a little while, at least 10 minutes. Funny, I was just talking about buttermilk with someone, about how it's one of those things that freaks people out and they don't know what to do with it. Turns out buttermilk is a great secret ingredient, from fried chicken to pancakes.

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Trading my birthright: for a pot of lentils, a la the Bible, seems like a good idea some days. I made lentil dahl this weekend -- red, with onions, garlic, ginger, cumin, turmeric -- and have been eating leftovers, and man, nothing in the whole world tastes so nourishing. I could eat this stuff EVERY day.

Kim O'Donnel: I hear you, dear. I love lentils and beans, and could eat them in some variation every day, too. Thanks for sharing the luv!

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Nashville, Tenn.: i LOVED the pie crust last night -- made a riff on your filling and everyone got a kick out of it. I'm dreaming of this being my regular crust for veg pies to use up the CSA bounty this summer. Mozzarella, zucchini, tomato... chard... asparagus quiche... how do you think using whole wheat flour would work in place of the all purpose?

Kim O'Donnel: Nashville -- are you referring to the spinach pie? Talk to me.

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More Acorn Squash : Hey Kim -- So glad you responded. The squash and gorgonzola pizza is lovely. Here is the link Roasted Acorn Squash and Gorgonzola Pizza

I sliced the acorn squash, doused with maple syrup, crushed red pepper and olive oil (yum) and baked the slices. Then took the skin off and spread on pizza dough which had baked with the cheese at the same time as the squash was baking.

The squash on the pizza was nowhere near as pretty as Smitten Kitchen's -- my husband got impatient with getting the skin off the squash because I was eating the squash as we were peeling instead of saving it for the pizza -- so the squash got kind of mushed after I got shooed out of our tiny kitchen, LOL.

Fortunately, there was enough remaining squash to cover the pizza and it was lovely.

Kim O'Donnel: And thank you for the link -- will check this out. How did you find slicing that acorn squash? They can be tricky. I really like the idea of blue cheese with the squash (well I like anything with blue cheese...)

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Arlington, Va.: Kim --

Just wanted to rant, and your chat seemed a good spot.

Our 13-year-old son has a cadre of 6 close friends. WITHOUT EXCEPTION, they are all very picky eaters. Usually, this doesn't bother me (their loss), but...

Son is learning to cook. One meal he is perfecting is spaghetti. He wanted to invite friends over to eat and NO ONE would come (!).

Most offered to come over 'after' dinner, totally missing the point. One (forced by his dad, we think) was more honest and said, "I am a very fussy eater and wouldn't want to hurt anyone's feelings."

I could almost understand lack of interest if Son was preparing escargot or tongue or something out of the ordinary, but we're talking simple spaghetti and sauce here.

At least Son recognizes friends are limiting themselves, and doesn't take it personally. In fact, already an adventuresome eater, he is interested now in even more diverse foods (Folks, it really isn't that hard!).

More to the point, where are their manners? Even if you don't like a certain food, isn't there protocol for at least attempting to enjoy something for the sake of friendship?

This still leads me to wonder -- HOW are these children going to function out in the world?

And what are their parents thinking?

Kim O'Donnel: Tell your son I would be very happy to accept his dinner invitation next time he whips up spaghetti. That aside, I think you make some interesting points. What's going to happen when these kids grow into adults and they end up at someone else's table? My parents, partic. my dad, always used to say, "try everything once, and if you don't like it, you don't have to eat it." If parents allow their kids to rule the menu, yeah, they're turning into monsters. Sounds like he needs some like-minded friends.

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CSAs?: I know other chatters have more experience here than I do. I've been asked to go in on a full CSA share for the summer/fall. It definitely works out to be more than we usually spend per week on produce, and even then we might need to supplement, depending on what we get each week, but then again, we probably don't eat nearly enough fruits and veggies. For those who have gone the CSA route, did it actually serve as an incentive to eat more produce? Of course, there's the added benefit of eating more seasonally and locally...I'd just hate not to get my money's worth of $450+. Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: Great question. I would love to hear from veteran CSA-ers on the cost-benefit breakdown. speaking of CSAs, just found out about a supercool grain CSA out in Washington state. You can subscribe to four or six months of farro, wheat flour, cereal, oats -doesn't that sound fun?

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Nashville, Tenn.: Yeah-- the garbanzo/all purpose flour crust from yesterday's spinach pie. Can I sub whole wheat for the all-purpose in the crust? I always feel so guilty eating pie crust when I make veg pies that I make them infrequently -- but a legume/whole wheat crust is like real food, if it will work!

Kim O'Donnel: I would try white whole wheat flour as your sub. You'll get the wholesomeness you're looking for but with a lighter texture.

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Anonymous: What is the best way to reheat my Easter leftover semi boneless lamb leg without drying it out?

Kim O'Donnel: I would slice what I need and cover with foil, reheat around 300, 325 degrees. Nothing hotter than that.

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Food for toddlers: Our son is a pretty good eater and at 14 months is eating only table food. That said, he isn't always a fan of things with many ingredients or generally sour/bitter flavors. Any suggestions for things we might all enjoy together as I feel myself feeding him something and us often something else and don't want to head down that road. Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: We had a 13-month-old at our brunch table this weekend, and he was very excited about chickpeas. He also was digging the spinach and feta filling from our pie. His mom tells me he's a big fan of lentils, too. Any parents of toddlers who can relate?

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Arlington, Va.: This may be out of left field, but here goes: Kim, do you or any chatters have some not-too-hard Korean recipes? I have a friend who is from Korea spending a birthday away from home and thought it might be nice to make a b-day dinner of Korean food. I have no clue where to start.

Kim O'Donnel: It's not out of left field. Korean food is one cuisine I've been keen to explore. Have you thought about asking your friend about cooking a Korean meal together -- friend gets Korean food, you get lesson, it's a win-win.

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Leftover sour cream: Not sure if this is technically a "veggie" dish, but I love making dill sauce whenever I have leftover sour cream. It's great on salmon, but also really yummy as a dip/sauce for just about anything. I usually estimate quantities, but use sour cream, dill, finely chopped shallots or onions, a bit of mustard, lemon juice if I have, salt and pepper, maybe some fresh garlic. It's good with green beans or asparagus (you can serve it on the side, or put it on when baking/roasting).

Kim O'Donnel: thanks dear....

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Baltimore, Md.: There is hope for the picky kids out there. I was one of them. Over the years, I have gotten past a lot of my food foibles, and now my mother refers to me as someone who is an adventurous eater. I still have some definite NO's (like mayonnaise), but generally there are things on every table I will eat.

On the other head, I can't imagine having ever turned down...spaghetti. I thought everyone like that!

Kim O'Donnel: I used to pick out the onions in all of my food...and you know how I feel about mayo...but like you said, you've moved on and grown up. I bet your parents encouraged you to try, though...

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Washington, D.C.: My CSA last year definitely gave me my money's worth. And it also helped me eat more vegetables...when I was tired and considering grabbing some kind of food on my way home I would think of how sad it would be to let all those pretty vegetables go to waste and end up roasting/sauteeing/chopping a quick and healthier dinner instead.

That acorn squash pizza sounds fabulous. If I wanted to make homemade pizza dough ahead of time, when would be the right time to freeze it, after the first or second rise?

Kim O'Donnel: Thanks for chiming in on the CSA, great to know.

Re: pizza dough: freeze it after the second rise. Let it thaw in the fridge.

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Spinach pie: I was excited at the spinach pie recipe, but must confess it's a little more complex than what I usually prepare, specifically, I've never made my own crust. I have a sense that when I do try the recipe, I will spend a lot of time staring at the directions while my ingredients dry out/approach room temperature. Any advice for a first-timer on how to go about making a crust and filling dish?

Kim O'Donnel: The dough is fairly straight forward, and we've now got readers saying they made it in a food processor. The only advice I can give you is to try it just once. If you freak out, then you've learned something too. Take one step at a time, dear.

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Toddler tastes: My son is now 2 years old and NEVER ate the jars of babyfood or rice cereal. He just didn't like it, and when I tasted it, I didn't blame him. He ate mushed lentils and rice from the start. Now lentils are his main source of protein. He likes a slice of pizza (cheese topping only), but then he asks for his real dinner. But I saute onion, garlic, ginger, cumin seeds, and mustard seeds, and add them to the cooked lentils. He wouldn't eat bland, tasteless lentils any more than I would. I think that's where some parents go wrong sometimes when they can't figure out why their kids won't eat protein. Even little ones have taste buds.

Kim O'Donnel: Thank you for this thoughtful post. Here's to cultivating our taste buds from get-go!

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Food for toddlers: I have a 2 year old who is a really great eater. I try to have one dish at each meal that I know he enjoys and then he tries everything else. Sometimes things are a hit, sometimes they aren't. But it's important that he TRY new dishes. Toddlers are notoriously picky, so it can take multiple times before they'll accept a new flavor. If we are having something spicy, like a chicken dish, I'll either reserve some of the cooked food for him before adding the sauce/spice, or tone it down a bit. I always try to keep an open mind and not automatically think, he won't like X because it's spice, sour, etc. Sometimes they surprise you!

Kim O'Donnel: More thoughtful remarks on encouraging children of all ages to try, try, try at the table.

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Re: Picky Eaters: I hear ya Mom! If your son wants to make me spaghetti, I'll come over. Kids, however, are very picky and maybe they just didn't realize how important this is to our son. Maybe the next time they're all over and they want some munchies (like chips and cookies) pull out something out of the ordinary and say "hey boys, how about some hummus and black olives?" Then have a good conversation about the importance of trying everything once.

I'm with your dad, my girls were advised to try something once before deciding it was not worth eating. As adults, they enjoy a variety of foods.

Kim O'Donnel: More on the tale of the spaghetti-making son...

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Slicing acorn squash: It was honestly almost as difficult as working with butternut. I used a lot of muscle power and ended up passing the task on to the husband -- I feel like a kitchen loser to admit this, but after almost cutting myself several times I figured he had more arm strength.

And the pairing with gorgonzola was TDF, especially with the heat of the red peppers.

Kim O'Donnel: No, you're not a loser at all. Winter squash are notoriously difficult to cut through. Next time, poke a fork on the outside all over, then stick in microwave for a minute, two minutes. Skin will soften a bit.

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Arlington, Va.: Hi, Kim. LOVE your chat and blog. You have had a major impact on my cooking style. Last night I roasted a pan of mixed veggies and they were terrific. Served them with Tilapia, already a favorite at my house but more frequent since your recent blog (coating the fish in Old Bay was nearly as tasty as your faux blackened recipe).

My cabinets now have a number of new spices, thanks to you. (Cumin Seed is delightful!)

My Easter dinner included au gratin potatoes and I'm wondering if you have a recipe for homemade. I'm watching my sodium intake and trying to avoid as many packaged foods as possible.

Kim O'Donnel: Hey Arlington, sounds like you've been busy! We can do a au gratin how-to. Let me cook something up soon in the blog space.

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Bergen, Norway: Hi Kim!

A dear friend is celebrating a special birthday soon. She loves cooking for friends and family, and I'd like to give her a gorgeous, inspirational cookbook as a birthday present. No special dietary needs.

Grateful for any suggestions from you or the chatters!

Kim O'Donnel: Hello, Norway! Hmm...gorgeous and inspirational. Here are some of my faves: "Kitchen Diaries" by Nigel Slater; "Where Flavor Was Born" by Andreas Viedstad; Jamds Oseland's "Cradle of Flavor," and "The Gift of Southern Cooking" by Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock." Just a few for thought; see what you think.

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Washington, DC: If I made your arugula pesto ahead of time, how long do you think it would be okay in the fridge? Sounds delicious!

Kim O'Donnel: At least a day, but not more than three. I've got a bunch leftover that I'll use on my sandwich this afternoon, and maybe with eggs later on.

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Hear, Hear to Buttermilk: The Joy of Cooking has a pancake recipe that uses milk or buttermilk plus baking soda. The difference between the two is like night and day. The milk ones are flat and chewy; the buttermilk ones are light, airy, and delicious.

Kim O'Donnel: Thanks for your buttermilk vote!

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Bread dough -- ACK!: Is there any harm in letting bread dough rise THREE times? I made dough last night, let it rise overnight... and in my haze this morning, forgot to punch it down and shape it for the second rise. Hubby is home and can punch it down in the bowl, but will probably not want to shape it. Can I have him punch it down, leave in the bowl, then shape it and let it rise again when I get home before baking tonight? It is a basic recipe I adapted for a sorta-Italian loaf -- yeast, water, 1 c whole wheat flour, 2+ cups AP flour, some olive oil. Knead, let rise.

Help! Thanks.

Kim O'Donnel: Since he's home, could he put bread in the oven this afternoon? Whaddya think?

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Kim O'Donnel: Ack, already time to run. Thanks for stopping by! There are lots of leftovers in the queue that need attention, so check tomorrow's blog space for details. Once again, I'll be back online Thursday at 1 ET for this month's meatless discussion. All best.

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